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Vallisneria: Aquatic Plant Care Guide

If you’ve been thinking of adding live plants to your freshwater tank but are worried that they’re too difficult to grow, then you should definitely consider one of the species in the Vallisneria genus. Val or Vallis, as they’re called, are a group of true aquatic plants that are very easy to propagate and make a great choice for beginners!

Vallis Appearance and Size

Focus shot of Vallisneria plants.

Vallis plants typically have long, thin, and almost ribbon-like leaves that have rounded tips with tiny, barely noticeable spikes on the end. The attractive and usually green leaves may grow straight or twisted into corkscrews, depending on the species, and form a loose wall of vegetation in your tank.

Their long leaves make them an ideal middle or background plant, and some types are especially suited to tall, narrow aquarium shapes that are otherwise a bit of a challenge to plant. Depending on the species, their leaves can reach from 6 to over 60 inches in length but, as true aquatics, will stay entirely inside your tank!

6 Common Types of Vallis for Aquariums

While there are over 30 species of Vallis currently recognized, only 6 are usually sold for aquariums. These species differ primarily in the shape and length of their leaves, but may also exhibit different shades and colors depending on their water conditions. Some species are more cold tolerant than others or prefer higher levels of alkalinity.

Straight Leaf Vallis: Italian Val vs Jungle Val

One of the most popular and easy to care species is the Vallisneria spirallis, also known as the Italian or Straight Vallis. Italian Val aquarium plants can reach up to 20 inches and are often available in a brilliant red color morph. Aquascapers appreciate V.spirallis for its use as a colorful background plant in smaller tanks.

Straight Leaf Vallis and fishes inside aquarium.

In contrast, Vallisneria americana or the Jungle Val has wider leaves that can grow up to 5 feet long! Jungle Vallis can rapidly take over even very large tanks. The long leaves may float on the surface of the water and block your lights if they are not trimmed back regularly.

There’s also a smaller straight-leafed Australian species, V.nana, that only reaches between 12 and 20 inches and makes a beautiful choice as a background plant in small tanks. You could also use it in the middle of a larger tank to create the appearance of a grassy meadow.

Corkscrew Varieties of Vallis

Many types of Vallis have shorter, tightly twisted leaves that add a lovely texture to an aquarium. V. fortifolia is a dwarf version perfect for nano tanks, while V. torta and V. asiatica only reach about 20-inches and fit well in tank’s 10-gallons and up.

Val. Species Size Range (height) Leaf Shape Color Ideal Placement Tank Size
V. fortifolia 6 to 8 inches Thin and tightly coiled Green Mid to Back 5 to 30 gallons
V. spirallis 11 to 20 inches Narrow and straight Pale Green to Red Back 20 gallons and up
V. americana 19 to 60 inches Wide and straight Green Back 100 gallons and up
V. torta up to 20 inches Thin and twisted Green Mid to Back 10 gallons and up
V. nana 12 to 20 inches Thin and grass-like Dark Green Mid to Back 10 gallons and up
V. asiatica 12 to 20 inches Short and twisted Green Mid to Back 10 gallons and up

Habitat and Water Preferences

Vallis are generally undemanding plants and don’t require a lot of special care, which makes them ideal for first-time aquascapers. They are not low-light aquatic plants, however, and grow best under moderate to intense lighting conditions.

Aquarium

Like all aquatic plants, they do best in well-filtered water that is changed on a regular schedule. They prefer hard, alkaline water and don’t thrive in acidic or soft water conditions. Enriching your aquarium water with a CO2 diffuser may bring out the reddish shades in your V.spiralis and help encourage growth in all types of Vallis.

For fertilization, I find it’s best to use a complete plant substrate with plenty of iron, and slip a fertilizer tablet under the root ball when planting. If using a sand-based substrate, you may want to hide a layer of iron-rich gravel and small pebbles underneath to improve the water circulation throughout.

Growth and Propagation

Vallis leaves grow from the crown in a rosette pattern, similar to lettuces and cabbages. When planting your Vals, it’s best to gently push the roots and crown into the substrate with your fingers or an aquascaping tool, and then pull up until the crown sits right above the surface. If it’s under the gravel, your plant won’t grow.

Detail of man's hand pruning the plants of his aquarium with scissors

Vallis spreads by sending out runners, which take root in your substrate and grow into new plants. These runners can quickly take over your tank if you don’t pinch them back. You’ll also need to prune the leaves regularly by pinching or cutting them off near the crown.

Vals Produce Flowers and Seeds

Vallis species produce both male and female plants with white flowers. The female flowers float on the surface, while the smaller underwater male flowers break off and float in the water. Once the female flowers are fertilized, they produce a seed pod which can be collected and saved for future propagation.

Health

Vallis are not prone to any specific diseases or health issues, and the most common problems are an overgrowth of algae on the leaves or slowed growth due to low light conditions. While other plant’s leaves may turn brown from nutritional deficiencies, this isn’t typically a problem with the undemanding Vallis species.

Benefits of Having Vallis in Your Tank

Aquatic plants like Vallis provide a lot of benefits to your freshwater tank beyond their beautiful appearance:

A green beautiful planted tropical freshwater aquarium with fishes

  • Plants produce oxygen and use the carbon dioxide produced by your fish and invertebrates
  • Their roots provide an ideal home to the good aquatic bacteria that help regulate your tank’s nitrogen cycle, and also prevent Dead Zones in your substrate
  • They also provide shelter to organisms in your tank

What Do You Need to Grow Vallis?

You don’t need a lot of fancy tools or gadgets to grow a thriving Vallis aquascape. Here’s a list of the supplies you’ll need to start your own underwater garden:

  • Aquarium (size depends on the species you plan to keep)
  • Light fixture
  • Filtration system
  • Aquatic plant substrate (soil, sand or iron-rich gravel)

Optional but helpful supplies can include:

  • Heater
  • CO2 diffuser
  • Aquascaping and pruning tools
  • Fertilizer tabs or liquid fertilizer
Common Name (species) Vallisneria, Vallis, Val, Eelgrass, Tape Grass

(multiple Vallisneria sp)

Family Hydrocharitaceae
Origin Found in subtropical regions around the world, including North America, Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe
Difficulty Easy to Moderate
Maximum Size 6 to 60 inches
Temperature Range 64 to 82°F
pH Range 6.0 to 9.0
Water Hardness 4 dGH and up; Prefers hard water
Light Requirements Moderate to Intense
Compatibility Ideal for community or shrimp tanks, and raising fry. Digging bottom dwellers or single-tail goldfish may cause problems by uprooting plants. Aquatic snails will likely eat the leaves
Ideal Tank Placement Middle to Back
Propagation Runners and Seeds

Conclusion

As you can see, Vallis is an ideal choice for aquascaping and planted community tanks, and it doesn’t take a green thumb or a lot of expensive equipment to grow and propagate. We’d love to hear about your experiences with this beautiful aquatic plant, so join us on social media or drop a comment below!

Guide to the Vallisneria Aquatic Plants - Inforgraphic

Jen has more than 30 years experience as a biologist, aquarist, and fishkeeper. She is an expert in setting up new tanks and maintaining naturally-planted freshwater habitats, and has experience raising a wide variety of aquatic species.

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